Has your doctor said you have high cholesterol? Then you know you need to change your diet and lifestyle to lower cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. Even if your doctor prescribed a cholesterol drug to bring levels down, you’ll still need to change your diet and become more active for cardiovascular health. These simple tips can help you keep cholesterol levels in check.
Cholesterol, Good and Bad
Your body needs a small amount of cholesterol to function properly. But we may get too much saturated fat and cholesterol in our diet — and both raise levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in arteries, leading to heart disease. HDL “good” cholesterol, on the other hand, helps clear bad cholesterol from your blood. You want to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, starting with your diet.
Portion Control: Lend a Hand
Most Americans eat super-sized meals, with portions that are twice the size recommended for good health. That can contribute to weight gain and high cholesterol. Here’s an easy way to practice portion control for a meal: Use your hand. One serving of meat or fish is about what fits in the palm of your hand. One serving of fresh fruit is about the size of your fist. And a serving of cooked vegetables, rice, or pasta should fit in your cupped hand.
Serve Up the Heart-Healthy Food
Load your plate with fruits and vegetables — five to nine servings a day — to help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol. Antioxidants in these foods may provide the benefit. Or it may be that when we eat more fruits and veggies, we eat less fatty foods. Either way, you’ll also help lower blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight. Foods enriched with plant sterols, such as some margarine spreads, yogurts, and other foods, can also help lower LDL cholesterol.
For Heart Health, Look to the Sea
A heart-healthy diet has fish on the menu twice a week. Why? Fish is low in saturated fat and high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower levels of trigylcerides, a type of fat in the blood. They may also help lower cholesterol, slowing the growth of plaque in arteries. Go for fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines. Just don’t drop the filets in the deep fryer — you’ll negate the health benefits.
Start Your Day With Whole Grains
A bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal has benefits that last all day. The fiber and complex carbohydrates in whole grains help you feel fuller for longer, so you’ll be less tempted to overeat at lunch. They also help reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and can be an important part of your weight loss strategy. Other examples of whole grains include wild rice, popcorn, brown rice, barley, and whole-wheat flour.
Go Nuts for Cardiovascular Health
Need a snack? A handful of nuts is a tasty treat that helps in lowering cholesterol. Nuts are high in monounsaturated fat, which lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol while leaving HDL “good” cholesterol intact. Several studies show that people who eat about an ounce of nuts a day have lower risk of heart disease. Nuts are high in fat and calories, so only eat a handful. And make sure they’re not covered in sugar or chocolate.
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